15 January 2011


Reports about negotiations with Laurent Gbagbo to leave the Presidential palace in Cote d'Ivoire carried a hidden twist that the U.S. government had offered him an "international role." U.S. State Department Spokesman confirmed the report, though he added that time was running out on the offer. Obviously they had in mind some kind of a U.N. job. How could that happen when the Security Council unanimously launched a campaign censuring him is a puzzle which only a U.S. State Department official could explain -- an unlikely prospect. The more relevant question is WHO authorizes U.N. jobs these days?


"Oh yeah, I have a piece of the Berlin Wall. They make them in San Antonio." -- From U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush, on whose watch the Berlin Wall fell.


"Wearing new underwear to work gives you a feeling of real power." -- An Esquire reader


"And the meaning of being American is that we eat spaghetti and we eat tabbouli." -- James Zogby (Self-appointed Arab American spokesman)


The first testicular guard, the "Cup," was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it took 100 years for men to realize that their BRAINS were also important.


-- From Barron's 20 December


We reported in the last issue about a suspected conspirator in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, who was uncovered by investigators when he used available cell phone time to call his girlfriend. Criminal, stupid and horny, we thought. Now we understand he is also dead. Somehow the man, whose name is Abdul Majid Ghamloush, had disappeared from his neighbourhood over a year ago. Former neighbours said that he just committed suicide -- no doubt assisted by those who held the other seven cell phones.


A run for the clock between Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Opposition grouping focused on the timing of his meeting with U.S. President Obama. His adversaries sought to depict him as an Ex PM and timed their announcement accordingly; except that one cabinet member who was travelling arrived 15 minutes late. Also keen on foiling the attempt, Hariri sought to advance the meeting by 10 minutes. Incidentally, that heated clockwise competition was of no interest to anyone else in the rest of the world .


-- Collected from the New Yorker



-- From Barron's 20 December


It was obviously a typo error. Highlights of the noon briefing for Thursday 13 January had an intriguing subheading: "Chinese official named Force Commander of U.S. Mission in Cyprus". Actually, it was about the new appointment of Major General Chao Liu of the Peoples Republic of China to command United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus -- UNFICYP.


Marta Ruedas just concluded her assignment as Deputy Special Co-ordinator/Resident Co-ordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Lebanon. During a period of high tension, that's quite a handful. Yet Ms. Ruedas wasn't easily intimidated by political statements by conflicting politicians made against one another. Yet, the U.N. was inevitably caught in the crossfire. Development work is part of public service and persistent conflict does have repercussions on development agencies in Lebanon, who have closer working relationships with the entire range of the political spectrum. The more so since the U.N. in Lebanon currently is structured in an Integrated Mission, thus working more closely across political and developmental lines. As an example, UNDP has grown tremendously over the past years, having partnerships across most ministries, and relationships with over 300 municipalities. UNDP has been instrumental in helping Lebanon set its goal of 12% of renewable energies, and helped expand agricultural services to the most underserved regions in the country; it has pushed for important reforms, for instance, in Lebanon's electoral and nationality laws, and worked ceaselessly in reconstruction efforts after the 2006 war and 2007 destruction of the Nahr el Bared refugee camp, as well as in peace-building efforts to avoid future violence. These expanded activities have brought UNDP more into the media spotlight, making it an easy target for the charge of running a "parallel government." Still, it could be a worse accusation: UNDP is helping provide services that the Government can't do on its own. UNDP is under fire as the opposition push the March 14 bloc led by PM Saad Hariri into a corner, while Hariri supporters push back. UNDP has been receiving cost sharing from the Government for projects, and therefore appears repeatedly in the national budget, providing an easy hook for the opposition as they try to block a budget that includes funding for the SL. Yet many ministries with important UNDP projects are in fact opposition ministries. All of which will be a nice learning experience for the outgoing Deputy Special Co-ordinator / Resident Co-ordinator / Resident Representative as she goes into her new role as Deputy of UNDP's Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.


On Christmas Day, 25 December, U.N. Representative in Lebanon, Michael Williams' office issued a "clarification" which drew more attention to his contradicting positions on the internally controversial issue of the International Tribunal on the terrorist criminal assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, father to current Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The "clarification" said that Mr. Williams "did not say that he expected the Tribunal's accusation report to come out in February, but said that "I do not see the report before February"! Anyway, what followed was even more confused. "The office of the Special Co-ordinator" (that's Williams, "lui meme"), wanted to confirm that "only the Tribunal and its Prosecutor General can specify when the decision is to be issued." Right. So what business did "Special Co-ordinator" Williams have to speak about a date in February? And when he did, why did he have to draw more attention to his "faux pas" by issuing an awkward "clarification" on Christmas Day, raising more questions on his sense of timing and judgement?!


In his desperate quest to join what he thought were the international glitterati, Sudanese/British businessman Mohammed Ibrahim -- dubbed by his promoters as "Moe" -- offered a $1 million yearly prize for African leaders who leave power in time to perform other functions. Along the route he gathered some Western fans keen to identify with Africa (especially the millionaire businessmen), including our dear friend "Pro Bono" Bono. Moe somehow managed an interview in The Financial Times, where he was allowed to pontificate about his views of the world. After repeatedly referring to the need to fight corruption, think of the poor of the world, and the need to confess failure, Moe was asked about his worst accomplishment. His modest response: "Refurbishing my apartment in Monte Carlo."


-- From Private Eye, 20 December


While Argentina and Chile made history earlier by having competent female Presidents, January 1, 2011, was the first time a woman takes over the Presidency in Brazil. Dilma Rousseff, an activist for the poor since her youth, rode in a traditional 1952 Rolls Royce convertible through the streets of Brasilia. "I will not feel at ease while one Brazilian is hungry," she said upon receiving the formal title from the outgoing president "Lula," who personally selected her. That's a daunting challenge, although President Lula did accomplish a great deal. During his two terms, 29 million Brazilians moved out of the utmost poverty status and 191 million became part of the middle class. That's an accomplishment very few amongst Third World leaders could claim. Another accomplishment is that a President left, as promised, on time and did not search for pretexts to remain in the Presidential palace.


Laurent Gbagbo's seemingly tough position in hanging on to Presidential power in Cote d'Ivoire despite complete international call for his departure may be mostly due to real power on the ground -- and that is not limited to officers in the national army. France, the former super-power in Abidjan has adequate troops posted there to either gently or forcefully persuade the army to stay away. While African Defense Ministers could do little to take over, the French could easily do so. Although French President Sarkozy officially asked Gbagbo to leave, there are still question marks about the real position of France on the ground. You see, the port of Abidjan is completely run by a company whose president is a close friend of President Sarkozy. Also, much of the construction and other major business in that former French colony is run by a company owned by one of Mr. Sarkozy's closest friends (and last year's Christmas dinner guest) Vincent Bollore. In French politics, Gbagbo was considered closer to the Socialists rather than the current ruling party (he was an active member in the 1980s in Paris). Now that his wings are clipped, will he recognize who's the boss? An outcome depends on his response.


Diplomatic traffic from Abidjan indicate that much of the adamant position by Presidential election loser Laurent Gbagbo is generated by his wife, Simone, who does not want to give up the First Ladyship privileges. That's why former South Africa's President, current African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki, made sure that the offer for Gbagbo's luxury asylum in Africa would include a specifically pleasant stay for Simone. However, she feels that her close ally, "Youth Minister" Charles Blé Goudé, who instigates the rioting crowds, will be able to keep her and her husband at the Presidential palace. Like the former First Lady of Rwanda (search unforum for Rwandan Devil Wore Prada), Simone herself is accused of ordering harassment (even worse) of opponents.


  1. King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates, the most valuable diamond in the ancient world. Desperate, he went to Croesus, the pawnbroker, to ask for a loan.
    Croesus said, "I'll give you 100,000 dinars for it."
    "But I paid a million dinars for it," the King protested. "Don't you know who I am? I am the King!"
    Croesus replied, "When you wish to pawn a Star, makes no difference who you are."
  2. Evidence has been found that William Tell and his family were avid bowlers. Unfortunately, all the Swiss league records were destroyed in a fire...and so we'll never know for whom the Tells bowled.
  3. A man rushed into a busy doctor's office and shouted, "Doctor! I think I'm shrinking!" The doctor calmly responded, "Now, settle down. You'll just have to be a little patient.


The U.N. Deputy Human Rights Commissioner, mostly in the shadows since her appointment three years ago, made a brief appearance about the evolving human crisis in the Cote D'Ivoire. Very impressive. She spoke confidently, clearly, and to the point. Her appearance helped. She looked sincerely committed to the issue she addressed. Quite frankly, Kyung-Wha Kang seemed more credible and impressive than both the U.N. Special Envoy, her compatriot who looked more stunned and haggard than a man in charge, and the Human Rights Commissioner, who gives an impression of continued hesitance. For a better image of the U.N. role in that field, and her own country, Korea, in general, she should publicly appear more often -- on the Right occasions.


Brooke Anderson, of the U.S. Mission, seems to be on the way up. A brief White House announcement indicated that the former chief of staff for Ambassador Susan Rice will take over as Chief of Staff of the U.S. National Security Council. Anderson had been recently promoted to the ambassadorial rank at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., mainly handling Security Council affairs -- and worked on the recent visit by the U.N. Security Council to the U.S. capitol.


Pakistan, Iraq, and Mexico have been the roughest countries for reporters during 2010, according to an annual report by Reporters Without Borders. One of the most striking elements was a glaring increase in the kidnappings of journalists worldwide: from 29 in 2008 to 33 in 2009 to 51 during this past year. Another new regrettable increase is the wider number of unsafe countries -- 67 U.N. member states. An added problem was that 36% of those kidnapped were killed. A new challenge consisted in the perception by ? population that journalists were not as objective or uninvolved in conflicts as they had been perceived in the past. There were new arenas for murdering journalists -- for the first time Greece and Latvia witness the assassination of those conducting media investigations. The only decrease was in the number of reporters killed: 57 in 2010, compared to 76 the year before! Still, 51 were kidnapped, 535 arrested, 504 placed under observation, 1374 threatened, in addition to 152 bloggers. Yet all officials in these countries pontificate about freedom of the press!


The Moroccan legendary town of Marrakesh hosted very discreetly a number of high level visitors during the New Year holidays. France's President Sarkozy and his wife were offered a special villa in the outskirts while his potential political opponent in the next Presidential elections, IMF Executive Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his wife were also in town. So was another adversary, former French President Jacques Chirac. Also, former Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin who was actually born in Morocco's capital Rabat. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa and his outstanding wife Sheikha Mozah were guests of King Mohammed II, also in Marrakesh. It was noted that the Qatari visit was announced through the official channels, perhaps to indicate a new thaw in relations after the recent closure of the Al-Jazeera office in Morocco. Marrakesh, whom Americans first knew as part of a comedy series by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, was a favourite of American self-professed "Capitalist" Malcolm Forbes and Elizabeth Taylor. Its Hotel La Mamounia was Sir Winston Churchill's favourite. Moroccan royalty ensures complete privacy for its very special guests. Two years ago when a senior European government official, currently a "U.N. adviser," fought with his lady friend, smashing some furniture in the famous hotel, before rushing off to the airport, the bill and expenses were quietly handled. Marrakesh in local Amazigh language means "hand of God." The name of the country is derived from it, although in Arabic it means where the sun sets.


Haggling over Western Sahara could take different shapes -- in New York, Westchester County, Rabat, Algiers, Madrid. But mostly in Al-Eyoun, the civilian capital of the contested region and headquarters of the U.N. Mission. One of the latest entertaining attempts was during a pop concert in Al-Eyoun by Algerian "Rai" star Chab Faudel. During a concert late December, a young girl was pushed to the stage carrying a Moroccan flag so he would wrap it around. Sensing the reaction in his own country, the artist casually led her to the side and had his manager take it away. Minutes before the concert's conclusion, another attempt was made through a young admirer carrying flowers -- and, again, the Moroccan flag insisting on a wrap. U.N. Mission talk was that a new Moroccan "Wali" (Governor) for the region wanted to impress his government by an ability to outmaneuver the Algerian, whose government supports the Polisario claim for an independent Western Sahara. Yet Faudel was obviously alerted in time to give an enjoyable concert uninterrupted by political innuendo. Afterwards, he swiftly went to his hotel, bypassing another "trap" to meet and greet local officials.


After twelve years as Oman's Permanent Representative to the U.N. in New York, Ambassador Fuad Al Hinai bade his farewell. He received a wide range of diplomats and friends at a reception on 22 December at the Mission's office on 47th Street. Guests felt so much at east that many ambassadors crowded around a limited number of tables in the back lobby while larger crowds spread around chatting well beyond the 8:00pm deadline. Often described by his colleagues as a discreet man for all seasons, Ambassador Al-Hinai will move to Washington, D.C. where his charming and competent wife Humaina Al-Mughairy represents her country as Ambassador to the United States. There, the cultured ambassador will have more time to enjoy the Kennedy Center of the Arts and visit some museums -- more than he could do during his very busy New York assignment.


A brief item in The New York Times about Sudan with a stress on the role of U.S. Special Envoy General Gration referred to his photo on the right. Only it was the photo of Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov. Do they in any way look alike?


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her husband former President Bill Clinton, and daughter Chelsea enjoying a drink at a Madison Avenue hotel bar, the night before Christmas. "Bubba" was singing along with the piano player...A Special Adviser to the Secretary General, a former Senior European government official staring for a long while at a display of very expensive hand-made shoes in a Madison Avenue shop...A former head of a U.N. Department, a European, who was known for giving his staff a hard time, having a very hard time trying to find a parking space on Madison Avenue for his non-diplomatic car.


You say "I will come"
And you do not come
Now you say "I will not come
So I shall expect you.
Have I learned to understand yet?
(Translated from Japanese)

"Kumu to yu mo
Konu toki aru wo
Koji to yu wo
Komu to wa mataji
Koji to yu mono wo."





"I am a man, little do I last
And the night is enormous
But I look up
the stars write
Unknowingly, I understand
I too am written
And at this very moment
Someone spells me out.
-- Octavio Paz (Mexico)


* Are you the Police?
- No, ma'am, we're musicians.